The art of describing the visual

Planit Agency
September 28, 2011

I recently visited The Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA, where I was awed by the paintings of the Wyeth trinity: N.C., Andrew, and Jamie. While feeling a strong connection to N.C.'s work (he was considered an illustrator, not so much a fine artist), I was especially drawn to Andrew's paintings. The reason? Many of the works were displayed including a quote from the artist himself, and I found his words insightfully inspiring. His understanding of the power of words matched his abilities with a brush. One quote in particular struck me:

"I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape—the loneliness of it—the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."

Describing the landscape as having bone structure is beautifully creative and concise. As a viewer, I was able to gain a deeper appreciation for the painting.

So, how does this apply to my life as an art director?

Reading the artist's thoughts next to each painting reminded me that visual artists need also be verbal artists. This especially holds true in advertising and design. The ability to describe and explain the motivation and reasoning behind an ad campaign or logo is a vital creative skill. It's not enough to say "It looks cool." The client needs to know how that cool factor will specifically support the objective. Or, maybe it's a conservative look that will accomplish the client's goals. Regardless of the stylistic approach, it needs to clearly be stated why that approach is appropriate. After all, advertising agencies and design shops are in the communication business, so it's important they themselves learn to communicate in all forms.